Accelerating Future Transhumanism, AI, nanotech, the Singularity, and extinction risk.


University of Michigan Researchers Use Capillary Action to Create Beautiful Shapes Out of Carbon Nanotubes

From Nanowerk News:

Twisting spires, concentric rings, and gracefully bending petals are a few of the new three-dimensional shapes that University of Michigan engineers can make from carbon nanotubes using a new manufacturing process.

The process is called "capillary forming," and it takes advantage of capillary action, the phenomenon at work when liquids seem to defy gravity and travel up a drinking straw of their own accord.

The new miniature shapes, which are difficult if not impossible to build using any material, have the potential to harness the exceptional mechanical, thermal, electrical, and chemical properties of carbon nanotubes in a scalable fashion, said A. John Hart, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and in the School of Art & Design.

They could lead to probes that can interface with individual cells and tissues, novel microfluidic devices, and new materials with a custom patchwork of surface textures and properties.

A paper on the research is published in the October edition of Advanced Materials, and is featured on the cover.

"It's easy to make carbon nanotubes straight and vertical like buildings," Hart said. "It hasn't been possible to make them into more complex shapes. Assembling nanostructures into three-dimensional shapes is one of the major goals of nanotechnology. The method of capillary forming could be applied to many types of nanotubes and nanowires, and its scalability is very attractive for manufacturing."

Nanotubes are among the strongest and most versatile materials possible given the laws of nature. Exploiting their full potential will be a key element of taking technology to an entirely new level.

Filed under: technology 26 Comments

Link Assortment 10/29/10

Raising giant insects of unravel ancient oxygen
The electronics for smart implants
SENS Foundation post on how resveratrol does not extend lifespan
Brian Wang reports on Zyvex progress in nanotechnology
How 3-D printing is transforming the toy industry
"Skin printer" could help heal battlefield wounds
Self-assembly revolutionizes metamaterial manufacture
Transgenic worms make tough fibers
Magnetic test reveals hyperactive brain network responsible for involuntary flashbacks
Controlling individual cortical nerve cells by human thought
Learning the truth not effective in battling rumors about NYC mosque, study finds
Fingers detect typos even when conscious brain doesn't
'Wireless' humans could form backbone of new mobile networks
Optical technique reveals unnexpected complexity in mammalian olfactory coding
Carbon nanotube thermopower achieving high specific power over seven times higher than lithium batteries
George Dvorsky: Why life extensionists need to be concerned about neurological diseases

Filed under: BCI, random, technology 1 Comment

David Pearce: Top Five Reasons Transhumanism Can Eliminate Suffering

A new article by David Pearce is up at H+ magazine. As a transhumanist staunchly in favor of the Hedonistic Imperative, I welcome this. Here are the reasons:

1) We Shall Soon Be Able To Choose Our Own Level Of Pain-Sensitivity
2) We Can Soon Choose How Rewarding We Want Our Daily Life To Be
3) Steak Lovers and Vegans Alike Can Soon Eat Cruelty-Free Diets
4) Carnivorous Nonhuman Predators Can Be Phased Out Too
5) We May Be On The Eve Of An "Intelligence Explosion"

1-2 are "old" transhumanist ideas, 3 is in vitro meat (new-ish), 4 is David's recent idea, and 5 is an idea more than a century old, but only given real attention since the founding of MIRI in 2000.

What good is transhumanism if it can't eliminate suffering?

Filed under: transhumanism 20 Comments

Skype Co-Founder: “We Need to Ensure That a Self-Correcting System Will Stay True to its Initial Purpose”

A Singularity Institute donor and Singularity Summit sponsor, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn understands the risk of advanced artificial intelligence. Estonian Public Broadcasting recently covered his remarks on the topic:

Jaan Tallinn, one of the founders of Skype, believes humans may succeed in creating artificial intelligence by midcentury.

Tallinn told that in order to create artificial intelligence, two important problems need to be solved. "First, we need to ensure that a self-correcting system will stay true to its initial purpose. Secondly, we need to solve a more difficult problem -- to determine what we actually want. What are those initial goals for a computer that is given super intelligence?" Tallinn asked.

He added that there could be negative outcomes if artificial intelligence is more powerful than humans but cannot interpret human values. "If a computer needs to get carbon atoms, and it doesn't care about humans, then it would think the easiest place to get them is from humans. It would be more difficult to acquire them from the air," said Tallinn.

It is hard to say what qualifies as artificial intelligence, said Enn Tõugu, senior researcher of the Cybernetics Institute at the Tallinn University of Technology. "I can't really even tell you what exactly is intelligence, intellect, reason or knowledge," he said.

"I tend to think that we can talk about intelligence as a human quality that computers can possibly attain. To some degree, it already is so. For example, I see such beginnings in Google," Tõugu said.

To modify the above slightly, to achieve artificial intelligence, those two problems should be solved -- they won't necessarily be. Creating artificial intelligence without making a self-modifying system stable or accurately specifying what we want could be a species-ending disaster, but entirely possible. In fact, economic pressures may make it more likely than the alternative -- Friendly AI.

Filed under: AI, friendly ai 45 Comments

Medical Fatalism

One study described at claims that many obese people are happy with the way they are. Another study, at PhysOrg, reports that Latinas tend to be fatalistic about cancer:

To assess whether they were fatalistic, women were asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with statements such as "cancer is like a death sentence," "cancer is God's punishment," "illness is a matter of chance," "there is little that I can do to prevent cancer," "it does not do any good to try to change the future because the future is in the hands of God."

The dynamics operating in both cases may be slightly different, but the fatalism is the same. People are often happy with things the way they are because worrying or actually doing something seem like too much trouble, or even theologically presumptuous. Thus, it's no surprise that many people aren't interested in cryonics. If you could prove that it worked, that would certainly change people's attitudes, but until then, we should predict low adoption rates for cryonics. Medical "fatalism" is common to everyone -- the question is at which degree one becomes fatalistic. Put another way, everyone has limited time and money to invest in medicine, and everyone has a different threshold at which they care about it. The standard of mainstream acceptability moves towards the direction of more care rather than less over time, which might not always be a good thing, when the interventions aren't proven to be beneficial.


Gregory Benford on Cryonics: Why Did Ray Bradbury Decide to Skip It?

Writing in Lightspeed Magazine: "Considering Cryonics". Benford makes a note of the odd phenomenon whereby sci-fi greats played around with the concept of cryonics in their stories but never actually signed up for it:

Ray Bradbury once told me he was interested in any chance of seeing the future, but when he thought over cryonics, he realized that he would be torn away from everything he loved. What would the future be worth, he asked, without his wife, his children, his friends? No, he told me, wouldn't take the option at any price.

This is an example of the "neighborhood" argument, which says that mature people are so entwined with their surroundings, people and habits of mind, that to yank them out is a trauma worse than death. One is fond of one's own era, certainly. But it seems to me that ordinary immigrants from every era have faced similar challenges and managed to adjust and make freer, better lives in their new homes. Just ask your grandparents.

I've met quite a few people against cryonics for this reason -- anyone in the audience who holds this belief want to expound on their personal feelings about it?

Filed under: cryonics 28 Comments

John D. Furber’s Comprehensive Aging Graph

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting John Furber, an anti-aging scientist known as the founder of Legendary Pharmaceuticals. The company's homepage has an excellent introduction to the biology of aging and senescence, and a giant chart with over a hundred nodes and links describing the process of aging. (I got to see a large poster version, which really had an impressive visual effect.) Furber's analysis of the mechanisms of aging are interesting because it strongly parallels Aubrey de Grey's but with a slightly different emphasis and other things to say. Furber has an article out in the hot-off-the-press Springer compilation The Future of Aging "Repairing Extracellular Aging and Glycation". He also has a nutrition page on his website.

Furber has been building on his graph for ten years, so it is very well researched.

Filed under: life extension 3 Comments

Humanity+ @ Caltech to be Held at Beckman Institute in Los Angeles, December 4-5

Here's the website. Humanity+ @ CalTech is hosted by the California Institute of Technology and ab|inventio, the invention factory behind QLess, Whozat, SocialDiligence and MyNew.TV.

The speakers list is a mix of the usual suspects and some new names. The usual suspects include Randal Koene, Suzanne Gildert, Michael Vassar, Max More, Nastasha Vita-More, Bryan Bishop, Patri Friedman, Ben Goertzel, and Gregory Benford. If you were following my tweets from this weekend you'll recall that Benford announced StemCell100(tm) at the Life Extension Conference in Burlingame, which is a product of LifeCode, a spinoff company of Genescient.

The conference is partially being organized by my friend Tom McCabe, who was recently voted on to the Board of Directors of Humanity+. Please let Tom know (his email is at his website) if you want to help sponsor the event!


Society for Risk Analysis Annual Meeting Presentation

This is just a reminder that I will be presenting at the Society for Risk Analysis annual meeting in Salt Lake City on December 5-8. The meeting is open to anyone interested in risk analysis. Registration is $500. Robin Hanson and Seth Baum will be there as well. My presentation will be part of the "Assessment, Communication and Perception of Nanotechnology" track. The full session list is here. Seth will be chairing the "Methodologies for Global Catastrophic Risk Assessment" track, where Robin will be giving his talk.

Here's my abstract:

T3-F.4 14:30 Public Scholarship For Global Catastrophic Risks. Anissimov M*; Singularity Institute

Abstract: Global catastrophic risks (GCRs) are risks that threaten civilization on a global scale, including nuclear war, ecological collapse, pandemics, and poorly understood risks from emerging technologies such as nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. Public perception of GCRs is important because these risks and responses to them are often driven by public activities or by the public policies of democracies. However, much of the public perception is based on science fiction books and films, which unfortunately often lack scientific accuracy. This presentation describes an effort to improve public perceptions of GCR through public scholarship. Public scholarship is the process of bringing academic and other scholarship into the public sphere, often to inform democratic processes. The effort described here works on all GCRs and focuses on emerging technologies such as biotechnology and nanotechnology. The effort involves innovating use of blogs, social networking sites, and other new media platforms. This effort has already resulted in, among other things, a visible online community of thousands following the science around GCRs, and plans to further move discussion of scholarly GCR literature into the mainstream media. It is believed that public scholarship efforts like these can play important roles in societal responses to GCRs.

Here's Professor Hanson's abstract:

W3-A.3 14:10 Catastrophic Risk Forecasts From Refuge Entry Futures. Hanson RD*; George Mason University

Abstract: Speculative markets have demonstrated powerful abilities to forecast future events, which has inspired a new field of prediction markets to explore such possibilities. Can such power be harnessed to forecast global catastrophic risk? One problem is that such mechanisms offered weaker incentives to forecast distant future events, yet we want forecasts about distant future catastrophes. But this is a generic problem with all ways to forecast the distant future; it is not specific to this mechanism. Bets also have a problem forecasting the end of the world, as no one is left afterward to collect on bets. So to let speculators advise us about world's end, we might have them trade an asset available now that remains valuable as close as possible to an end. Imagine a refuge with a good chance of surviving a wide range of disasters. It might be hidden deep in a mine, stocked with years of food and power, and continuously populated with thirty experts and thirty amateurs. Locked down against pandemics, it is opened every month for supplies and new residents. A refuge ticket gives you the right to use an amateur refuge slot for a given time period. To exercise a ticket, you show up at its entrance at the assigned time. Refuge tickets could be auctioned years in advance, broken into conditional parts, and traded in subsidized markets. For example, one might buy a refuge ticket valid on a certain date only in the event that USA and Russia had just broken off diplomatic relations, or in the event a city somewhere is nuked. The price of such resort tickets would rise with the chance of such events. By trading such tickets conditional on a policy that might mitigate a crisis, such as a treaty, prices could reflect conditional chances of such events.

Filed under: events, risks 7 Comments

My Four-Layered Model of Human Nature

Robin Hanson is really on fire now with his analysis of farmer vs. forager psychology. Whether consciously or not, he's extending the farmer model given by Cochran and Harpending in The 10,000 Year Explosion. Cochran and Harpending's model is interesting in the way it points out the disappointing truth about humanity's self-domestication. To put it in crude terms, we've naturally selected ourselves into a bunch of conformist townie wussies.

My default model of Homo sapiens is four-layered -- our primate-mammalian background from 80 mya, the Homo sapiens EEA (environment of evolutionary adaptiveness) pan-species bedrock, post-African diaspora/farming/Neolithic Revolution selection pressures, and the modern world. Rich data is available to update the model at all four levels, but in my opinion #3, the farming revolution, is most neglected. I hazard to guess it's the most neglected because the particulars of it make distinctions between different groups of existing humans.

Another neglected area, as far as my reading goes, is the mystical/mythical side of the time period intermediate between the EEA and farming. The period of time when all our elaborate myths were invented, perhaps 10-20,000 years ago. The Golden Bough provides powerful evidence of the content of this entire area (hint: it involves burning lots of effigies), but what scholarly work exists on mythological origins prior to all trendy modern traditions? The Golden Bough was published 120 years ago. Anyone know more recent material?

Filed under: random 21 Comments

Gem of an Idea: A Flexible Diamond-Studded Electrode Implanted for Life

From Eurekalert:

Diamonds adorning tiaras to anklets are treasures but these gemstones inside the body may prove priceless.

Two Case Western Reserve University researchers are building implants made of diamond and flexible polymer that are designed to identify chemical and electrical changes in the brain of patients suffering from neural disease, or to stimulate nerves and restore movement in the paralyzed.

The work of Heidi Martin, a professor of chemical engineering, and Christian Zorman, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, is years from human trials but their early success has drawn interest worldwide.

My general stance on enhancement and implants is "go diamond or go home", and its corollary, "go fullerene or go home".

Filed under: transhumanism No Comments

ASIM Experts Series: Brain-Machine Interfacing: Current Work and Future Directions, by Max Hodak, October 17, 2010

"ASIM" stands for Advancing Substrate Independent Minds, the field previously known as mind uploading, though ASIM can be construed as broader. ASIM is the focus of Carboncopies, a new non-profit founded by Suzanne Gildert (now at D-Wave) and Randal Koene (Halcyon Molecular). Randal and I work at the same company so I get to see him in the lunch room now.

The presentation, to be held in Teleplace this upcoming Sunday (email Giulio Prisco for directions on how to log in) has the following abstract:

Brain-machine interfacing: current work and future directions
Max Hodak -

Abstract: Fluid, two-way brain-machine interfacing represents one of the greatest challenges of modern bioengineering. It offers the potential to restore movement and speech to the locked-in, and ultimately allow us as humans to expand far beyond the biological limits we're encased in now. But, there's a long road ahead. Today, noninvasive BMIs are largely useless as practical devices and invasive BMIs are critically limited, though progress is being made everyday. Microwire array recording is used all over the world to decode motor intent out of cortex to drive robotic actuators and software controls. Electrical intracortical microstimulation is used to "write" information to the brain, and optogenetic methods promise to make that easier and safer. Monkey models can perform tasks from controlling a walking robot to feeding themselves with a 7-DOF robotic arm. Before we'll be able to make the jump to humans, biocompatibility of electrodes and limited channel counts are significant hurdles that will need to be crossed. These technologies are still in their infancy, but they're a huge opportunity in science for those motivated to help bring them through to maturity.

Max Hodak is a student of Miguel Nicolelis, the well-known BMI engineer.

Filed under: BCI, events 15 Comments